Marisa Yeaman: Roots Music Going Modern And Global
After playing several European music festivals in 2006 including
one in The Hague, Australian singer, songwriter, and musician Marisa
Yeaman has become recognized as a contemporary blues-roots artist.
Her debut album Pure Motive launched her solo career and
has been embraced by country folk music communities in the US, Canada,
Europe, as well as her native Australia. Her music has correlations
to Americana/country artists like Emmylou Harris and Bonnie
Raitt and Celtic/grassroots bards like Luka Bloom and
The Finn Brothers. Her songs have a Celtic/country warmth,
an acoustic pop/rock lift, and a blues/folk shine, which she tells
was inspired by her musical influences.
"Cat Stevens' Teaser And The Firecat was like
the soundtrack to my childhood," she shares. "Fleetwood
Mac was another early musical influence. I remember being 4
years old and hearing Carole King on the radio. Songs and
music have always had a really deep affect on me. John Lennon's
Plastic Ono Band album was a turning point also. I'm also
a huge fan of Bowie, the intellect of what he does and his
She recounts, "I saw lots of bands playing at country show
grounds and outback dance halls as a child and I recall seeing traveling
Aussie troubador Slim Dusty play when I was about 8, but
I think the first big concert I went to was Stevie Nicks
at Festival Hall in Melbourne. I remember that she was so into her
songs that she actually was crying onstage."
Marisa identified with Nicks' depth of emotion, which is due in
part to both sharing the loss of their fathers. Like Nicks, Marisa
was also influenced by her family to play music and channel her
feelings into melodies and lyrics.
"The artistic genes stir in the pool, I guess," smiles
Marisa. "Only this year, I found out that my Great Great Aunt
had her own swing/dance band back in the 1920's called Yeaman
Orchestra. They played music for the slient fillms and at all
the local dance halls around Echuca. Apparently, my Aunt Elizabeth
used to really raise the roof on piano and her sons Charlie
on violin and accordion and Jack on saxophone played with
her in the band. They used to travel around on dirt roads to their
gigs in a horse and dray and later in an old blue Packard."
She reveals, "All my grandparents played instruments or sang.
My mum teaches piano and my Uncle is a painter. There's also a botanical
illustrator (in the family), my sister paints and my father was
able to build anything he put his mind to, so even when the rest
of the world thinks I'm strange, they don't."
Also similar to Stevie Nicks was the bohemian lifestyle of Marisa's
upbringing which gave her the freedom to explore her talents while
her family traveled at will and her mother tutored her and her sister
at home. She narrates, "I come from Echuca on the Murray River
which is known for its historic riverboats. We headed off to travel
around Australia when I was 4. I spent time in many different places,
even on an Oyster farm for a while. We later settled in Gippsland,
but we still continued to travel as a family. I didn't think my
life was different to other kids until I went to everyday school
and realized that most kids at my age hadn't seen much outside of
the town they lived in. There's a great freedom and richness in
that kind of lifestyle and it was a priceless education in how people
live such vastly different lives."
She reflects, "Apart from the physical beauty of this continent,
I also saw close up the inequality of indigenous communities and the
hardships endured in rural Australia. I carry all those images with
me. Traveling by definition makes you an outsider, an observer, and
that's certainly seed to creativity. All that open space and often
solitude allows you the luxury of daydreaming and imagination, especially
a child. Musically, I still work very much from my own head space
and I am not too fussy with what everyone else is doing."
"My parents were young," she recalls, "and they
loved music. It passed on naturally to my sister and I. I started
to learn guitar at 7. I put it down for a while and then picked
it up again in my early teens after my father died. Poetry, songwriting,
and music was my way of dealing with the pain and as time passed,
it has become like an old friend, we still get together and process
all kinds of subjects."
For a time, she was inspired by her father to become a world champion
speed skater while she was a teenager. "My dad and grandfather
were both cyclists. Speed roller skating is very similar tactically.
I raced throughout my teens, traveling again across Australia and
then to Argentina for the world Championships (skating on the Australian
team). I later went on to be a third generation cyclist. I fell in
love with Latin America on that trip - the people, sights, and sounds,
but there was a darker reality happening in Argentina, and I found
the atrocities of the dirty war unfathomable. It made me start to
read and learn more about the region."
Marisa Yeaman gravitated to human suffering and sorrow, and desired
to heal those wounds and give hope to feelings that are disillusioned
by life's misgivings. She saw that music had the power to heal and
nourish emotions, but Marisa was not content just being a music
fan, she wanted to be active in making music and healing human wounds.
"I come from a family who love art and music, so I'm lucky
they understand my need to do what I do. I learned classical guitar
from age 7 for a few years, so I learned to read basic music, but
once I started to write, it came from some place deeper. I am largely
a self-taught guitarist and I dabble with a number of other instruments."
She began writing songs by converting her poetry into melodies. "I
started with poetry, then I began to add music. I think the first
song I ever finished was about John Lennon being killed. Writing my
first song was like finding the keys to a magical new world."
Playing her music in front of audiences also opened her up to a new
world. "Getting on stage has been like a healing process for
me." She explains, "It was about facing my fears and overcoming
them. I came to playing live quite late. When I finally did, at my
third ever show I won 'Runner Up - Australian Female Roots Vocalist
Of The Year,' which was a total surprise. I have worked as a live
musician for over ten years now. I feel at home sharing my songs with
the audience, and I love the fact that my songs can touch someone
She conveys, "It was never a conscious decision" to become
a solo artist. "It's just what I do, I write songs. It's been
there all along even when I was off speed skating and living the life
I now write about. I always wrote. I often say that if it wasn't songs,
it would probably be books. Being an artist in this age of consumerism
is a bit like being a salmon that swims upstream. I heard Kevin
Welch describe himself once as a 'lifer,' that's a pretty good
analogy. It's a 'Pure Motive.'" Making a correlation to the title
of her debut solo album that was released on the Australian indie
label Deep Pearl Records.
She describes that the recurring themes in her songs express, "Yearning,
loss, places, journeys, love and its wicked ways! I'm a sucker for
words - words dance, words sing. It usually starts with words, not
always but mostly. A lot of the time I can hear the music forming
before I pick up the guitar and then once I can play it, I start
to hear the other instruments in my head. It's still the best high
in the world to carve a song out of words and notes. I don't have
a method. I don't try to define it. I was never taught how to do
it. It's just there, like a compulsion that comes to visit."
When writing songs for Pure Motive she relates, "I like
to listen to songs that touch you, make you think, take you on a mental
journey so it follows that they are the kind of songs I try to write,
I guess. I get ever tougher on myself when it comes to writing. I
tend to revise more these days than I used to, but I don't censor
myself or ever try to contrive anything, otherwise you never feel
comfortable with singing the lines. Songs are really like carvings
- you make the outline and then you find yourself chipping away little
pieces until you feel it's right. Good songs grow and continue to
evolve the more you perform them."
She recapitulates, "Pure Motive was recorded in a small
studio here in Melbourne called Thirty Mill. The album was recorded
by Colin Wynn who has worked with me many times as a live sound
engineer. He understands the kind of artist I am and how organic I
like to sound, I wore the producer hat on this record with trusted
friend and guitarist Andrew Pendlebury acting as co-producer."
She touts, "Andrew is an outstanding guitar player. He worked
tirelessly on the record bringing his unique style to help illustrate
these songs beautifully. The album also includes some of our co-writers.
As I wanted to make an acoustic album, a bulk of the songs were
mainly Andrew and I. For the band tracks, I was privileged to work
with some of the best musicians in Australia. Guys who live for
what they do and whom I have long respected for their work in local
"The rhythm section," she notes, "was Bon Krunic
on drums and Dean Addison on double bass. Matthew Vehl
contributed great Hammond (keyboards), Rhodes, and piano work. Master
of pedal steel was Ed Bates. Extra guitars came by the way
of Ron Tabuteau and Dave Steel, and Marcus Goodwin
sang some stunning backing vocals. Working with such articulate players
afforded me the luxury of finally hearing my songs come to life with
full instrumentation and with enough space to still be able to breathe
and resonate. Every songwriter's dream!" She enthuses.
Collaborating with so many musicians was a new experience for her.
She declares, "I am a totally independent artist, so that doesn't
come easily. There have been many great people who have helped me
along thus far. Special mention goes to my family, Aussie manager
Jules Mehegan, Andrew Pendlebury, Lynne King who has
maintained my website, John Bromell, and also all my past band
members and various crew."
She explains that working in the studio is uniquely different from
performing live. "Studio work is very insular and intense.
It's a whole different process to performing. It's just you and
the song. Live work allows you to engage with an audience and share
the songs. It's a direct social exchange. Nothing beats standing
in a room with good musicians playing live, the sound resonates
through your body and the enthusiam is infectious. You won't get
that from listening to a DVD at home. That is the spirit of live
She gushes that with her audience she wants to "offer something
of value to them emotionally or spiritually so that they enjoy themselves.
I have fans of all ages and nationalities and I love that fact. I
also seem to appeal across genre divides, so I'm proud to help blur
She notices, "That when we categorize music, you take away the
power of the listener to make their own decisions about what they
like...The most rewarding thing about playing music is the different
people that you get to meet. I just be myself with people and that's
all you can do."
Marisa Yeaman encountered a lively reception from European audiences
when she played gigs throughout 2006 there. "We were planning
a tour to Europe in September (2006) then in May, I was invited to
play at 'Destination Downunder,' an Australian tourism expo in Holland,
so I jumped on a plane. I found out when I got there that my Dutch
booker had also got me some other shows, so I was really excited about
being part of the 'Music In My Head' festival in The Hague. To be
on the bill with people like Ron Sexsmith, Johan and
John Cale was just a blast! One of my most memorable moments
was the afternoon show where I opened for Ron Sexsmith in a large
courtyard outdoors. There were a couple of hundred pure songwriting
fans relaxing on a perfect Dutch summer's day. The vibe was just so
great, I'll always remember that one."
Unfortunately, Marisa did not document that time with a music video
of the live performance. "At this point, I have not made videos
for my songs. If I was to make a clip for a song on this album, I
would probably pick 'No Fences' as it lends itself to some great mental
imagery. I think music videos can be powerful if used to portray valuable
content artistically or socially. I'm a big believer in art being
a messenger for change. Television is the driving force behind consumerism
and is very pro-violence, we need to be counteracting that message
and using that three minutes of airtime to offer something positive.
Sarah McLachlan's clip for 'Worlds On Fire' puts the matter
into perspective perfectly," she exemplifies.
Though Marisa Yeaman has not used visual mediums like music videos
and television to bring her music to the public, she has come to rely
on the internet to showcase her songs - like on her websites www.marisayeaman.com
She comments, "The Internet has helped people from all across
the world find my music. It has effectively taken away the borders.
The old music business that used to nurture talent got hijacked
by taste dictators," she professes, "who create custom
made instant celebrities and care little for Art. All the real musicians
went underground and became independent. That's what is the driving
force behind the rise in popularity of non-pop music worldwide.
The reality is, it is tough to survive as an artist in these times
when the consumer mentality places little financial value on the
And yet she attests, "I think there has never been a more
valid time for artists."
She proclaims, "Music and musicians can go a long way to bringing
the world together and making us take a look at the way we treat
each other and the planet we live on."
She asserts, "Audiences on the whole are far more intelligent
than the record companies give them credit for and that is why so
many people seek out new music via the internet these days. That is
where the hope is for new artists. As for me, I just hope to keep
making records that reach people in some way and that I am proud of."
Marisa Yeaman's music is making her grow stronger and wiser each
day. She started this year showcasing for Melbourne's Songwriters
Hall Of Fame and has won America's Treblie Award for being one of
the "Top 10 Most Overlooked Female Artists of 2006." Whatever
the future holds for her, it will be her music that has enormous
meaning for her. She is a "lifer" as a singer, songwriter,
and musician. From the musical grassroots of her upbringing to her
own modern musings about the world she lives in, writing songs is
what she does. It is music without borders.
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